“I don’t blame her.” I stood up and looked around. “You two have been living here? By yourselves?”
“Yeah,” Max nodded. “We’ve been here since the compound burned down.”
“How long ago was that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. A while.”
“What happened?” I walked around the room, looking more closely at the few possessions Max and Stella had managed to accumulate.
“The zombies broke in,” Max said. “They couldn’t hold them off anymore. London told us to escape if we could. Me and Stella made it out just before he lit the building on fire.”
“He burned it down?” I turned back to Max, and he nodded. “With himself in it?”
“It was the only way to stop the zombies,” Max explained.
“What happened to everyone else?” I asked. “What about all the other people there?”
Max frowned, looking sad as he thought about it. “Some of them escaped, I think. Some died in the fire. And the rest are zombies.”
I went back over and knelt down in front of him. I wanted to hug him again, touch him just to prove he was real, but Stella was pressed up against him, her eyes wide and terrified.
“Stella, don’t be scared,” Max said, his voice soft and comforting. “This is my sister, Remy. You know the lion? That’s hers.”
“Ripley?” Stella asked, and she seemed to brighten a little.
Ripley had sprawled out on the floor, licking herself, but she stopped when she heard her name.
“Yep,” Max said. “And anybody that has Ripley can’t be that bad, right?”
Stella seemed to think it over before nodding. Max suggested she go back to bed, and she crawled in the mass of blankets behind her, burying herself in them.
Max and I stayed up a little bit talking, but not much longer. I realized that he’d been taking care of Stella, and that was sweet but also a little strange for me. He was so young, and I always thought of him as my kid brother.
But the world had aged him, making him more mature. He’d been able to create a small safe haven, even here in a zombie-infested town. He was stronger and smarter than I’d given him credit for.
When I fell asleep curled up in the blankets beside him, it was the best I’d slept in a very long time, even with the zombies growling below us. It was the first time in nearly a year that Max and I were really together.
In the morning, Stella attempted to make us breakfast, which amounted to a can of beans in cracked teacups. Max said that he often scavenged for food and for toys that Stella might like, which explained the teacups.
Many of the zombies had moved on in the night, as Max had predicted they would, but they weren’t all gone. That meant I had to find another way to escape. I had to go find Boden and the others so we could join them on their trek north. But only if they’d lived through the night.
Wrapping a sheet around my hand, I punched out the front windows on the loft. The glass shattering would attract more zombies, which meant that I really had to hurry if I wanted to get out of here without an undead escort.
Max didn’t have much in the way of weapons, so I snapped a broom handle over my leg. I shoved the dull end down through my belt loop. It would restrict my range of motion a bit, but I needed my hands free to crawl out of the window.
An old sign hung cock-eyed in front of the building. I wasn’t sure what kind of store it had been, since there was the only the word Molly’s in big metal letters. The M hung down, almost touching the doorway to the store, and the rest of the sign leaned up at an angle, so the S was at the top, nearly reaching the roof.
When I dropped out of the window onto the M, it creaked and groaned under my feet, and for one horrible second, I was certain it would crash to the ground below me. But it didn’t, so I scrambled up to the top.
A few zombies had gathered below me, drawn out by the noise I was making, and one of them made a weird retching sound. It reminded me of a cross between a cough and the sound a dinosaur had made in Jurassic Park.
I stood up on the sign, and I had to jump up to reach the ledge above me. The first time I missed it and fell back onto the S. The metal screeched below me, and it wouldn’t hold up for many more falls like that. If I didn’t make the ledge in the next jump, I’d end up on the sidewalk below.
I crouched low, pushing myself as hard as I could when I jumped up. My fingers caught the edge of the concrete lip around the roof. Using my legs, I pushed myself up, but not before scraping my stomach against the brick of the building.
Once I’d pulled myself up on the roof, I looked down over the edge, watching the zombies below me. They jumped up, reaching for the M, but they never quite made it. Even if they did get it, they would probably only succeed in pulling the sign down on top of them. Max and Stella were still safe in their loft.
I went across the roof to the other side of the building, where the stairs would lead away from the welded doorway. The rickety wooden stairs were still intact, and there weren’t any zombies loitering around them. I’d made enough noise in the front of the store to keep them there looking for me.
The landing at the top of the stairs wasn’t as close to the roof as I’d have liked. I climbed over the ledge and hung on, lowering myself down as gently as I could. I was still several feet from touching the landing, but I had no choice, and I let go, dropping down.
My ankle groaned at me, and I fell onto my back. Wincing, I pulled up my jeans to inspect my leg. The good news was that it wasn’t broke. It still hurt, but I didn’t think it was sprained. It’d just be sore for a little bit, but I could walk it off.
A lone zombie had wandered down the street, and I had to get him before he summoned the rest of the zombies. He hadn’t seen me yet, but it wouldn’t be long before he did.
I stood up quickly, ignoring the pain in my ankle, and I sat on the metal railing of the stairs so I could slide down to the bottom. As soon as my feet hit the sidewalk, the zombie noticed me. He was only a few feet away, and he opened his mouth. All of his teeth were missing, but that wouldn’t stop him from howling.
I grabbed the broken broomstick out of my pants and charged at him. Just as he began to croak out a sound, I swung the stick, and it connected hard with his head. There was a loud crack as his neck snapped, and his head flew off his body.
Before any other zombies came out to play, I turned around and ran. I didn’t want to lead any of them back to where Boden and the others were hiding, so I had to hurry and remember the directions Max gave me. He knew all the best ways to squeeze around town and where to hide if zombies caught sight of me.